Thursday, September 8, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mexico donates aid in show of friendship

Chicago Tribune

MEXICO CITY — With Mexico scrambling to find and help thousands of its citizens stranded by Hurricane Katrina, an unprecedented convoy of Mexican military vehicles was set to cross into Texas today ferrying relief supplies for disaster victims.

The 40-vehicle convoy, loaded with mobile kitchens, water-treatment facilities and 195 engineers, doctors and other army personnel, would be the first Mexican army unit to set foot on soil that is now the United States since at least 1846.

Headed for San Antonio, they were not armed.

President Vicente Fox sent the assistance — which includes a Navy supply ship expected to drop anchor off Biloxi, Miss. — yesterday as a show of friendship with the United States. But it didn't depart Mexico without controversy and a sense of irony.

Mexico, more often on the receiving end of disaster assistance, has rarely been called on to help its northern neighbor. And a long memory of U.S. Army incursions into Mexico more often manifests itself in suspicion between the two countries' armies.

"The friendship between Mexico and the U.S. clearly calls for our solidarity," said Juan Bosco Martí, director general of North American affairs at the Mexican Foreign Ministry. "We are very honored that the government of the U.S. has accepted."

Opposition members in the Mexican Senate, critical of Fox's past attempts to cozy up to the United States, complained Tuesday that the president had not sought permission for the military foray. Eventually, the full Senate gave approval.

On radio talk shows, some Mexicans complained that the aid wasn't being used to increase help for Mexicans hurt by rains and flooding this year. Bosco insisted that those disaster victims are being taken care of.

"Nobody ever thought the Mexican military would be going north. They always thought it would be the other way around," said Roderic Ai Camp, an expert on the Mexican military at Claremont McKenna College in California. "It is completely unprecedented."

Camp said the Mexican response fits with a desire by Fox's government to show leadership in the region by sending military assistance to disaster zones. It also might help make up for what U.S. officials perceived as Fox's tardy expression of sympathy after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The U.S. military has been trying in recent years to develop a closer relationship with Mexico's military but has run into roadblocks because of the tradition of mistrust.

"This could be a breakthrough event that takes the relationship to a better and higher level," Camp said. "I think the vast majority of Mexicans will be delighted that they can help the U.S."

U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza issued a statement welcoming the assistance and expressions of sympathy and condolences from Mexicans, "many of whom have family members and friends in the affected region." He also supplied telephone numbers for Mexicans seeking to donate money or locate relatives.

Bosco said the foreign ministry checked the archives and did not find any evidence of previous military and humanitarian assistance to the United States. The last time Mexican soldiers crossed the Rio Grande was in 1846, shortly before the Mexican-American War when the territory was taken over by the United States.

Venezuela plans

to ship gas to U.S.

Never mind his terrible relations with the Bush administration and the Rev. Pat Robertson's recent call for his assassination, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez says he is shipping boatloads of extra gasoline to the U.S. to help soften the impact of Hurricane Katrina. U.S. officials can only grit their teeth over the propaganda points he is scoring.

Yesterday, Bernardo Alvarez, Venezuela's ambassador to Washington, spelled out the amounts and timing of the shipments: In the coming month, the state-owned oil company will deliver nearly 1 million barrels of gasoline, in addition to the 1.2 million scheduled, to Citgo Petroleum, the U.S. refining and distribution firm Venezuela bought in 1990. The fuel will be taken from storage and diverted from other customers.

Although the gasoline will be sold on the open market rather than donated, it could help ease the near-term shortage that sent gas prices soaring after the storm knocked out refineries in the central Gulf Coast.

Other countries, mostly close U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, have also said they will release gasoline from reserves, but as Alvarez's statement noted, shipping times from Venezuela are only four to five days, so his country "will be able to meet U.S. needs that much sooner."

Noel Clay, a State Department spokesman, said, "They have made that offer, and it's still being considered."

The Washington Post

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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